Visiting Xochimilco in Mexico City: A Step by Step Guide

Picture of the Xochimilco canals in Mexico City. Includes a few vibrant boats on the canal water.

Visiting Xochimilco ranks among the ultimate must-dos when exploring Mexico City. Xochimilco is a “party village on water,” offering visitors the choice of local cuisine, music from mariachi bands, and an endless supply of authentic Mexican drinks such as Micheladas. If you want to experience something that’s not offered anywhere else in the world and have a great time, then Xochimilco is the place to do it.

I’ve visited Xochimilco twice within the past four years and have thoroughly enjoyed it each time. Through my experiences in Xochimilco, I’ve learned the best ways to get there, how to avoid popular tourist scams, the top things to do in Xochimilco, and how to barter for the best deals while there.

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    What is Xochimilco in Mexico City?

    Xochimilco is a network of canals located in Mexico City. At Xochimilco, tourists can rent a boat that’s piloted by a local and enjoy the atmosphere. Along the canals, you’ll find local restaurants, activities, and vendors. Visitors can instruct the boat driver to stop anywhere they’d like along the canal – whether to sit down for a meal at a restaurant, participate in an activity, or purchase food from a vendor to take with them. In addition to vendors lining the sides of the canals, locals cruise around in boats offering food and drinks. You can also hire mariachi bands in the canals for as many private performances on your boat as you’d like.

    How to Get to Xochimilco from Mexico City's Tourist Area

    The two best places for tourists to stay in Mexico City are Roma and Condesa. This guide breaks down the best way to get to Xochimilco from those locations since it’s where most tourists stay. 

    The most convenient way to reach Xochimilco is by using Uber, which is readily available and safe in Mexico City. The journey from Roma and Condesa to Xochimilco by car takes approximately one hour and costs an average of MX$400 Pesos (or $20 USD) for a one-way trip, though prices may vary depending on the time of day and year.

    While it is possible to reach Xochimilco using public transportation, such as the train, it is not recommended due to safety concerns and the potential challenges of navigating the train systems, especially for foreigners.

    Ubers are also available for the return trip from Xochimilco to the main tourist areas of Mexico City. However, please keep in mind that the wait time for a returning Uber may be slightly longer than the journey there, as it’s a highly populated area with more tourists attempting to return home than there are available Ubers.

    Is a Tour Required to Visit Xochimilco?

    It’s entirely possible and relatively easy to visit Xochimilco without a tour; however, having a basic level of Spanish is advisable to avoid potential scams and ensure a smooth independent exploration of Xochimilco. 

    Opting for a guided tour to Xochimilco offers several advantages, including the convenience of transportation to and from the park, protection against common tourist scams, and ease of navigation in the bustling area upon arrival.

    I’ve visited Xochimilco twice and opted for a tour-free experience each time. I had a fantastic solo adventure, although I do speak some Spanish which I believe helped me go it alone. 

    There are many tours to Xochimilco, like this one offered by Viator

    Xochimilco Tickets and Costs

    Xochimilco is completely free to explore on foot. However, to fully experience the canals, you will need to rent a boat. The cost of renting a boat in Xochimilco is not fixed and must be negotiated with the boat drivers upon your arrival. On average, a boat rental costs around 500-600 pesos per hour (approximately $25-30 USD) for the entire boat. This means that whether you ride with 2 people or 5 people, the cost remains the same, and you can divide it among everyone on the boat with you. You can rent the boat for as many hours as you’d like; however, it is recommended to spend three to four hours to fully explore and enjoy.

    The boat rental cost in Xochimilco can be negotiated when you arrive. Don’t accept the initial price they quote; always attempt to negotiate for a lower rate. For instance, if they initially quote 600 pesos, you can try to haggle it down to 500 pesos or less. Negotiating the cost is a common practice in Mexican culture, and the locals are accustomed to it.

    Xochimilco Hours of Operation

    Xochimilco is typically open daily, from early morning until late in the evening. The most crowded days to visit Xochimilco are on weekends (Saturday and Sunday) as it is a popular weekend activity for locals.

    Although Xochimilco remains open in the evening, it is recommended to arrive with ample daylight remaining to fully enjoy the surroundings and take advantage of the active vendors during the day. Additionally, departing before nightfall is advisable, as it’s less safe at night.  

    Food and Drink Options at Xochimilco

    There are numerous local food options available at Xochimilco. Along the canals, visitors can choose to either stop and dine at one of the many restaurants or purchase food from vendors who navigate the waters on boats. Typical food options that can be found at Xochimilco include:

    1. Tacos: You can find a wide range of taco vendors serving various fillings such as carne asada (grilled beef) and al pastor (marinated pork).

    2. Elotes and Esquites: These are delicious street corn dishes. Elotes are typically served on the cob, with mayonnaise, cheese, chili powder, and lime. Esquites are similar but served in a cup.

    3. Quesadillas: Enjoy stuffed tortillas filled with cheese.

    4. Tamales: These are steamed corn wrappings, filled with various ingredients like meat and cheese and usually wrapped in banana leaves.

    5. Sopes: Thick tortillas topped with beans, meat, lettuce, cheese, and salsa.

    6. Pulque: This traditional Mexican fermented beverage is sold along the canals.

    7. Fresh Fruit: You can often find vendors selling freshly cut fruit, such as watermelon, mango, pineapple, and more.

    8. Snacks: Various snacks like chicharrones (fried pork rinds), tostadas, and flavored nuts are sold by vendors along the canal.

    9. Tostadas: Crispy tortillas topped with beans, meat, lettuce, cheese, and salsa.

    10. Churros: This traditional sweet/fried treat is sold by vendors in Xochimilco.

    Alcoholic Beverages can also be purchased in the canals. The most commonly found beverages at Xochimilco are:

    1. Beer: The most popular beers sold at Xochimilco are Mexican brands such as: Corona, Modelo, and Pacifico.

    2. Tequila and Mezcal: Some vendors may offer shots of tequila or mezcal; two of the most popular drinks that Mexico is known for.

    3. Micheladas: This Mexican beer consists of beer, lime juice, and hot sauces. It is a must-try when visiting Mexico and a very popular choice in Xochimilco.

    4. Margaritas: These can be found all along the Xochimilco canals.

    5. Mixed Drinks: While less common than the Mexican drinks listed above; some vendors and restaurants will sell mixed cocktails such as Vodka sodas, Tequila sodas, etc. 

    Note that you can bring your own food and drink to Xochimilco. So, if you’d like to save costs during your trip to Xochimilco, consider bringing your own food and drink on board. There are stores near the canals where you can purchase items before getting onto your boat if that’s preferable.

    Scams to Avoid in Xochimilco

    As Xochimilco is a tourist destination, there are a few scams that target tourists, and all visitors should be aware of them. The most common scam, which happened to me, targets tourists who choose to travel to Xochimilco by Uber. In this scam, locals dress in an “official uniform” and ride on a motorbike on the highway about 30 minutes before reaching Xochimilco. Uber drivers are aware of this scam but usually don’t intervene to stop it. 

    When this happened to my friend and I, a person who looked like an official approached our Uber and told the driver that Xochimilco was closed, and that we must go to another destination to ride the boats. We thankfully suspected that they were wrong, and continued on to our planned destination. If this happens to you, don’t fall for it! The alternative destination they try to redirect you to is both less exciting and more expensive.

    Overall, keep your guard up when visiting Xochimilco as a tourist. Some people will try to take advantage of you if you don’t stand your ground.

    Is Xochimilco Safe?

    Xochimilco is generally considered safe for tourists. However, as is the case with any travel destination, it’s essential to exercise caution and maintain awareness of your surroundings. The most common safety incident reported at Xochimilco is pickpocketing.

    Visiting Xochimilco in Mexico City is a memorable adventure full of local cuisine, Mexican Mariachi bands, and Mexican beverages. My two visits in the past four years have equipped me with valuable insights for a seamless trip to Xochimilco, and I’d definitely return. Whether you opt for a solo excursion or a guided tour, the canals provide an exceptional experience and it’s one of the best things to do in Mexico City.

    Disclosure: Please note that some of the above are affiliate links, and I earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you. I only recommend companies that I’ve personally used and like, and the income supports this site. 

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